Review – Age of Comics: The Golden Years

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Designer Giacomo Cimini, Sónia Gonçalves

Artist Laura Guglielmo

Publisher Lirius Games

Category Economic

Length 50-120 minutes

Release Date 2023

Player Count 1-4

Age of Comics: The Golden Years puts 2-4 players in the role of upstart comic book publishers in the Golden Age of Comics (circa 1938-1954). In this game, players compete to develop new comics, gain fans, earn money, and dominate the newsstands. Let’s check it out!

Review

No board game’s theme has ever grabbed me like that of Age of Comics. As a career historian, a lifelong comic reader, and an avid gamer, it’s the ultimate marriage of everything I enjoy.

In Age of Comics, players compete to earn the most points. The game takes place over 5 rounds, during which players take turns placing workers and resolving actions. The main board features an income/rankings track for each player, an action area where workers will be assigned, and a map of newsstands across Manhattan.

There are 6 genres of comics for players to create: sci-fi, crime, romance, horror, superhero, and western. In each genre, there are original comics and rip-offs — low-quality copycat works. Each round, a token is revealed corresponding to 1 of the genres, and all the order tokens of that genre are revealed on the map. Then, after a few start-of-turn upkeep steps, players choose actions from the following:

  • HIRE – Take a writer card and an artist card from the display.
  • DEVELOP – Take an original comic card from the display, or pay $4 to search for a particular comic in the deck.
  • IDEAS – Take a number of idea tokens from the display and/or supply, as shown next to the space.
  • ROYALTIES – Gain the amount of money shown next to the space.
  • SALES – Move the sales agent about the map, fulfilling order tiles.
  • PRINT – Play a writer, an artist, and a comic card onto the personal tableau. Then, pay the associated cost and 2 idea tokens of the comic’s genre. Lastly, place a token on the chart matching the comic’s cover. (This token, which can move up or down on the chart, represents how well the comic is performing at the newsstands.)

When comics are printed, they typically generate fans. Fans like original comics, and they like when the creative team is right for the comic’s genre. (Think Jack Kirby drawing superheroes vs. Jack Kirby drawing romance comics.) The more fans a comic has, the more money it generates for its owner. Original comics are also worth points at the end of the game.

Original comics and their rip-offs.

When printing a rip-off, a player does not need to spend idea tokens. They simply need an artist, a writer, and the money to pay them. Then, they search the deck for a rip-off card of a comic someone else has published. Rip-offs do not come with fans, nor do they award end-game points, but they are useful for earning money and achieving “mastery.” For each genre, the player who has produced the most comics gains a mastery token, and it can pass from player to player. When a player earns a mastery token, all their comics in that genre gain an extra fan. These tokens also award points to their owners during final scoring.

As players move their sales agents about the map, they can fulfill orders for their comics. Agents move along the circle spaces, and they can walk to an adjacent circle for free each time they take the Sales action. If they want to move farther than that, they can take a cab, spending $2 per extra space moved. Some comics also provide a “super-transport ticket” as a bonus when printed, and this single-use ticket acts as a warp, allowing the player to move anywhere on the map.

The Sales action allows a player to flip and collect adjacent order tokens from the map. Order tokens specify a type and value of comic that the owner must produce to fulfill it (e.g. a western comic of value 3). Completed orders gain fans for the comic and are worth points at game end. Incomplete orders are worth negative points.

There are several other aspects to the game that I am going to gloss over for the sake of brevity, but I will at least mention them. Throughout the game, players can improve the skills of their writers and artists and gain special actions. These actions include reassigning creatives, exchanging ideas/money for fans, and gaining points through improving their printing colors.

At the end of each round, the player with the best-performing comic earns points, and all players receive income for their comics. The game ends at the completion of the 5th round, at which time final points are tallied and the player with the highest score wins!


Age of Comics is a remarkably thematic game, full of nods to the real-life history of comics. Unlike many mid-weight euros, which tend to focus on refined mechanisms over thematic integration, Age of Comics leads with its theme, though it still has a solid game system underneath.

This game has a satisfying arc. At the beginning, players start with minimal resources, but they will steadily build a catalog of comics that generate revenue and help them to grow and improve their business. The turn-to-turn decisions are multilayered, but not so deep as to cause severe AP. It strikes a good balance.

In terms of mechanisms, Age of Comics mostly does things I have seen before, but even though it doesn’t feel that innovative, it is still a well-designed game. I do worry that there are a few too many ideas at play—I wonder, for example, if the mechanism of leveling up the creative team could have been omitted. Indeed, it adds to the theme and strategy, but it feels a little superfluous.

The production quality of Age of Comics is high, with superb art and visual design. The action spaces are laid out like comic panels, and the covers are extremely evocative of real Golden Age books. Lirius Games has made a great-looking product, and has managed to avoid most of the pitfalls I might have expected from a first-time publisher.

As a side note, deluxe components are available separately to upgrade the coins and genre tokens. The metal coins are nicely textured and very shiny, and their colors are well differentiated. The upgraded genre tokens, likewise, are beautifully enameled with a slick sheen and a satisfying heft. Below are side-by-side comparisons between the basic components and their deluxe counterparts:

As a lifelong fan of comics and someone who has extensively studied their history, I appreciate all the fine detail that went into this design. This game expertly encapsulates the pre-code era of comics, from publishers ripping each other off to artists producing all manner of propaganda, cheesy romance, and schlock horror. It’s clearly a labor of love. If you enjoy mid-weight euro games and/or are a comics history buff, check it out.

A review copy was provided by Lirius Games.

The Bottom Line

Age of Comics expertly encapsulates the Golden Age of Comics. While it doesn't feel too innovative mechanically, its deep thematic integration bolsters the experience.

 

7.5

Author: Stephen Hall

A bard pretending to be a cleric. Possibly a Cylon, too. I was there when they dug up the "E.T." cartridges.